Five carers who lost their jobs in the past fortnight after raising concerns about understaffing and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages at homes are considering taking legal action, according to a charity that is warning more whistleblowers face being sacked before the end of the Covid-19 crisis.
As the care industry struggles to grapple with the unfolding pandemic, Compassion in Care, a charity that runs a helpline for whistleblowers, claims the five carers came forward this month to say they no longer had positions after disclosing safety problems.
The health workers are contemplating legal action after contacting regulators and authorities with concerns, the charity has said.
There is growing concern about the situation inside the country’s care homes, with the sector feared to be at the centre of crisis. On Wednesday, the government released figures revealing the coronavirus death toll for both hospitals and the community, including care homes, for the first time. It added an additional 3,811 deaths for those who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the community since the start of the outbreak, bringing the total number of deaths to more than 26,000.
The carers’ dismissals, first reported in the Times, relate to confidentiality breaches. Three of the carers were sacked, the charity explained, and the other two would have cases for constructive dismissal. Compassion in Care’s founder, Eileen Chubb, who herself was a care industry whistleblower, told the Guardian the carers were thinking about taking legal action via employment tribunals to challenge their cases.
She said she believed more carers would lose their jobs for blowing the whistle as the pandemic continued, adding: “Going back four weeks we had people who were raising concerns about PPE, about staffing levels, about the kind of care and also about Covid-19 patients being placed in the home after hospital. All of those issues were raised and now you’ve got a situation where no action was taken weeks later and staff are beginning to think nobody is listening. And they’re right.”
Chubb, who said she was not publicly naming the firms the carers had worked at to protect the whistleblowers’ identities, added: “All of the care homes are staffed on a wing and prayer anyway. Then you have something like this happen and you haven’t got the reserves in staff to cover what is happening because the [owners of the homes] have cut everything to get bigger profits and there’s no reserve.
“People have got to breaking point now because there’s no action being taken and they can’t see why that action cannot be taken by the employer. So there’s a massive loss of trust and also a huge amount of anger.”
Summarising the carers’ concerns, Chubb said: “The overriding theme is going to work everyday and waiting for your concerns to be addressed breaks you a little more each day. In the end, you have no trust left that any action is going to be taken or any positive change is going to come about.
“I suppose because staff feel they’re risking their lives doing this, it’s changed the whole dynamic. Whistleblowers contact us all the time so we know whistleblowing, we live it, we know the kind of issues that are going to come up. But this is a whole new thing, this is a situation where in a short amount of time trust is lost much quicker because of the conditions. It’s concentrated in a way we’ve never seen before.”
On 6 April, Compassion in Care released figures showing it had received 87 calls in the two weeks prior from staff raising PPE concerns in social care, including 61 in residential homes, 20 from nursing homes and six for home care agencies.